Moving Images: Psychoanalytic Reflections of Film, by Andrea Sabbadini, Routledge, London and New York, 2014, 140 pp.
While reading this book, I kept pondering the question of who would be the best audience for it. The author, Andrea Sabbadini, is a psychoanalyst who is extremely knowledgeable about film, especially classic European movies. His stated goal for the book is to offer discussion of films from a psychoanalytic perspective and in the process of doing so, to use the films in order to illustrate a number of psychoanalytic ideas and to convey a sense of what analytic work consists. Anyone who is familiar with many of the movies discussed in this book and understands psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory would be the ideal audience for it. However, even knowledgeable psychoanalysts with out having seen these films would find it difficult to relate to the book. Similarly, students of cinema who may have seen the films mentioned, would probably get lost in the erudite psychoanalytic discussion presented in this book. Unfortunately, that would seem to leave a very small audience for this book. However, I do see an important value for it which I will discuss at the conclusion of this review.
This 140-page soft-covered book has six chapters which I will list below with two of the several movies discussed in each chapter.
Chapter 1: “A Young Profession: Films on Psychoanalysis” Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945)
Il Postino (Radford, 1994)
Chapter 2: “…and the Oldest One: Films on Prostitution” Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957)
Belle de Jour (Buñuel, 1967)
Chapter 3: “The Young Ones: Films on Children” The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
German Year Zero (Rossellini, 1948)
Chapter 4: “…and Slightly Older Ones: Films on Adolescents” Heavenly Creatures (Jackson, 1994)
City of God (Meirelles, 2002)
Chapter 5: “Between Eros and Thanatos: Films on Love” A Pornographic Affair (Fonteyne, 1999)
Amores Perros (Inarritu, 2000)
Chapter 6: “Watching Voyeurs: Films on Scopophilia” Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)
The book opens with a discussion of films about psychoanalysis in which the author touches on how the psychoanalytic profession has been depicted in numerous movies, including a mention of the television series In Treatment (2010). There are several flms discussed in this chapter where Freud himself, and other well known analysts, were depicted. We also learned that Freud showed very little interest in the movies of his day and stated in a letter that he did not believe psychoanalytic ideas could be represented by cinema. Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, which starred Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, is described in this chapter as perhaps the most famous of all films about psychoanalysis. Sabbadini spends five pages discussing this film and how this whodunit movie included discussion of dream analysis, anxiety inducing situations, psychopathic devices of amnesia (repression), and guilt complexes. There is also a discussion of how the camera work, light effects, sound track, and editing create the dream-like psychological atmosphere that the director wished to achieve. In the movie Il Postino, Sabbadini justifies that while it is not actively about the psychoanalyst or analysand, the close relationships that gradually develop between Marino, the postman, and Neruda, the poet, shared many features with what normally takes place in our psychoanalytic consulting rooms.
In the chapter about films and prostitution, the author reviews the social complexities surrounding the selling and buying of sexual favors for money. He even considers a common fantasy that there is a close association between prostitution and psychoanalysis. He uses Fellini’s movie, Nights of Cabiria, to discuss the concept of a rescue fantasy. Fetishism and masochism are also analyzed in this chapter in some detail. Catherine Deneuve’s character Severine in Belle de Jour is examined and at one point the author even postulates that the house of prostitution is the metaphoric antithesis of marriage and has the unconscious function of keeping the latter alive and with it the normality it symbolizes.
Chapter three is the longest chapter and discussed fillms about children, which should not be surprising coming from a psychoanalyst who appreciates the importance of early life experiences. The Spirit of the Beehive was an internationally acclaimed film which was described as dealing with innocence, illusions, and isolation. It focuses on two young girls growing up in the Spanish countryside. This movie deals with the fantasy that they have of monsters which occurs after they see the classic horror movie Frankenstein. This certainly can be related to contemporary young women who are constantly bombarded with such horror films. The author examines how the two children’s fantasy world and magical thinking is skillfully explored by this movie movie. The film Germany Year Zero approaches children in a completely different manner. Rosselini visited postwar Germany in 1947 apparently without any story to tell but trying to answer his own troubled question, “The Germans were human beings like everyone else. What could have led them to this disaster?” Sabbadini describes how this film develops the answer to this question from the point of view of children as they find themselves forced by circumstances to behave like adults.
It is only natural that the author progresses to the next chapter and discusses films on adolescents. He tries to put a perspective on child development theory by noting that it is only in the course of the last 30 or so years that a radical shift has taken place in relation to our understanding of adolescence. One of the films which he focuses on in this chapter is Heavenly Creatures where two adolescent girls, when not immersed in their fantasies, would become obsessed with a plan to murder the mother of one of them. This movie is actually based on the diaries of a person in a real life event which took place in New Zealand. Sabbadini describes how the film attempts to show the conflict between adults and adolescent children. The Oedipus complex and “passing phases of homosexuality” are some of the themes analyzed in this movie. Another film discussed in this chapter is City of God which is also based on an actual event that happened in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and 1970s. It looks at the role of young people in the Brazilian slums and is described as a “part tender Coming of Age film and part Gang-Warfare Epic.” The author uses this film to further expound on Oedipus theory.
Chapter 5 tries to look how the cinema often tackles issues of love. The author notes how films have explored most variations of this theme often throwing new light on the more bizarre and unusual aspects of it rarely considered anywhere else. He also states that psychoanalysis has done likewise focusing more often on the pathological deviant or perverse side of it rather than the so-called normal one. Sabbadini uses A Pornographic Affair and the relationships of the two characters Elle and Lui to study the deeper emotional meaning of their liaison. He discusses psychoanalytic constructs to understand them such as triangular constellations, regressive tendencies, voyeuristic fantasies (of the audience), and the unseen pornographic components of the main characters’ love affair. Sabbadini returns to the concept of the rescue fantasy as he then analyzes the Mexican film, Amores Perros. This movie consists of three stories which he tells us involve transgressive passion and almost intolerable violence as well as profound humanity. He breaks down each story and explains and interprets the fantasies involved. He explains how he feels that there is a universal fantasy and an important emotional complex both in the conscious and unconscious and that it is often related to primary narcissism.
In the final chapter titled “Watching Voyeurs, Films on Scopophilia” perhaps the most interesting chapter in the book. Sabbadini recognizes the cinema goer or film lover as a voyeur and he quotes Freud stating that the scopophilia drive is autoerotic. Therefore the movie-going experience is a source of both voyeurism and exhibitionism. By bringing the viewers into the equation, he is in a sense recognizing one of the analyst’s most powerful instruments and that is a recognition and utilization of our countertransference. One of the examples that he uses is Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In this film, through one of the main characters played by James Stewart, we watch through his rear window, what goes on in an apartment house opposite his home. Sabbadini discusses that what we see through the voyeur’s eye is a projection of our own desires. He also describes this movie as a dream. He goes on to use Freud’s essays on the theory of sexuality to analyze the movie and also brings in the witch hunts of the McCarthy era which were occurring when the film was made and he believed may have influenced it. There is no shortage of films for Sabbadini to use to further explore this topic. He analyzes the film Peeping Tom which allows him to discuss an array of different forms of deviant sexuality, psychopathology, scopophilia, obsessions with pornography, and sadism, not to mention a further description of the presence of a deep depression underlying everything else.
I believe that the real value of this book will be as a textbook for the study of the cinema from a psychoanalytic point of view. A group of psychoanalytically minded people could choose one of the films mentioned in this book for each group discussion and view it individually or together prior to a discussion of it. They could consider the observations and the thoughts of Sabbadini as well as their own reactions and interpretations of the film viewed. One person could lead the discussion of each film. Since most members of such a group would likely not have previously seen most of these films, this would enable them to now view them and participate in a study of them. I am sure these films are readily available on Netflix.
A second group that may want to use this book as a guide to understanding the films discussed in it might be film students or people who enjoy classic films. Assuming that most of these people who join such a discussion group would not be psychoanalytically trained, the leader or guide for such a discussion group could be a psychoanalyst who is skilled at explaining these concepts as they apply to this film, to a lay audience. The students in such a class would already have a keen interest in how movies convey psychological issues and would value seeing this film again (or for the first time) and would most likely be very receptive to having the meaning put in a psychodynamic and psychoanalytic context. Once again this book would be a marvelous textbook for the leader and the group to use after they have seen the film under discussion.
I am very pleased to interview psychiatrist Dr. Jeffery Smith who is the author of a new exciting book titled Getting the Most From Your Therapy- Become An Educated Consumer. Dr. Smith received his medical degree from UCLA and did his residency in Psychiatry at Albert Einstein Medical School in New York. He is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York Medical College where I first met him before I came out to California. He has written two other books and has a blog about psychotherapy. The following interview is 35 minutes.
Any comments are welcome below. Please click the line below to listen to the interview : Interview with Dr, Jeffery Smith
By Ellen Marie Wiseman
This book is composed of two interweaving stories. Clara, a woman who lived in the 1930s was committed to a mental institution against her will based on her wealthy father’s unhappiness about her Italian immigrant boyfriend and her refusal to marry the rich guy that her father picked out for her. The other story is about a current day teenager named Izzy who is a foster child of Peg and Harry after having lived with several previous foster parents since her mother unexplainably murdered her father. Peg is working on a museum project examining newly discovered suitcases of belongings of former patients (including those of Clara) of a now closed psychiatric facility, in order to gain some understanding of their lives. Izzy helps out with this project and finds the diary of Clara and becomes interested in her life.
Being a psychiatrist, I was initially drawn to this book with the idea that I would gain some insight into the lives and treatments of psychiatric patients living in the first half of the twentieth century. This was the case and it included vivid description of the treatment that was done at that time such as ice baths, insulin shock therapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
Although I never worked in a state hospital, when I toured them in the late 1960s, such treatments except occasional ECT under humane conditions were things of the past. As far as the possibility of someone spending most of their life committed to a mental institution based on the word of her father when she clearly did not have a mental illness, I would like to think that this would not have been possible. Certainly, in modern times from my experience someone being hospitalized against their will would have to go through a legal hearing with the patient being assigned an attorney if they don’t have one. Once in a hospital with treatment with modern-day medicines (which were not really available until the 1950s) most mental illness can be put at least in temporary remission with such treatment. Today, there would be reviews by multiple doctors with no mandate to keep the person in the hospital against their will unless they were a danger to themselves or others due to a mental illness. I would hope that nothing like Clara’s situation could occur today. Obviously, I can’t speak for every state hospital in the United States and certainly things were different in the 1930s.
There was another aspect of Clara’s case was particularly disturbing to me in that the psychiatrist in charge of her care was depicted as a mean, cruel, selfish man who was mainly responsible for Clara’s lost life. I felt it was an unfair indictment, which suggested all psychiatrists of that time might have been of the same cloth. I understand that the author has the creative choice to develop characters in whatever fashion she chooses. I probably would not be complaining if the character were a dishonest lawyer who did unsavory things in the interest of an interesting storyline but nevertheless, I felt that this book was stigmatizing my profession.
There was particular theme of this book, which also had a special interest to me. Three characters in the book were driven to try to understand their early origins. Izzy, understandably could not fathom why her beloved mother murdered her father. This ultimately led her to empathize with a schoolmate who had some parental trauma. It contributed to her mission to find Clara’s daughter who was essentially separated from her at birth, and hand over her mother’s diaries so she could know about her mother’s story. Clara’s daughter led a life of yearning to know what happened to her mother and Clara similarly went through life wanting to know what happened to her daughter. This is a variation of a theme, which I have seen played out in many people’s lives as well as in some interesting movies. Persons, sometimes separated at birth or when they are quite young often yearn to know their biological parent or parents with whom they may have had no relationship for decades. I have reflected on the psychodynamics of these issues in an earlier posting in this blog. Therefore, I was particularly interested to see how they played out as major motivating factors in the characters in this book.
I believe the author Ellen Wiseman has created an intriguing story that will hold the interest of the reader whether or not you come from a psychiatric background.
This is a story, told in the first person of Patrick J. Kennedy. It is really two stories presented to us simultaneously. It is about Patrick Kennedy, son of Edward Kennedy and nephew of JFK and Bobby Kennedy. He has been a US congressman from Rhode Island for eight terms and was one of the staunch advocates for parity legislation, for mental illness, and addiction. Yet at the same time that he was leading the fight in the United States Congress to bring about these major changes in our healthcare system, he himself was secretly battling mental illness and addiction.
An important part of his personal story was a discussion of alcoholism in his family. Not only was the author an alcoholic but his brother, mother, and father, Ted Kennedy also struggled with this condition. It is significant that all of them except his father ultimately recognized their problem and entered various programs to help themselves. His mother battled alcoholism for a prolonged period of time and yet her condition was not recognized by family members despite the fact that they knew about several hospitalizations and treatment programs that she had undergone.
One of the most revealing insights about his father that he revealed in this book is how Ted Kennedy was traumatized by the tragic death of his three brothers, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and his oldest brother, Joe Jr., who was killed in World War II. An additional major trauma for Ted Kennedy was the death of the young woman in Chappaquiddick, an incident well covered by the press.
It was not a simple pathway for the author to recognize his own problems. Even after a period of therapy with Psychiatrist Peter Kramer, author of the well known book (Listening to Prozac). Kennedy felt this treatment was helpful but did not eliminate his addiction problem or allow full acceptance of his bipolar condition. He vividly described how he would convince himself that he didn’t have any problems if he didn’t drink in public or take “illegal” drugs.
Patrick Kennedy served in the Rhode Island legislature and was elected as the youngest member of the US Congress in 2004 during a period that his addiction and mental illness was hidden from the public. It was also pretty much hidden from himself.
His colleagues in the US Congress ultimately became aware of his attempts to hide his drinking problem. Kennedy describes an important event for him when in 1996, Minority Leader, Dick Gephardt, offered him the prestigious chairmanship of the Congressional Campaign Committee on the condition that he stop drinking. This made him realize how he was denying that he had a problem that was known to others.
It wasn’t until 2005 that he publicly admitted that he was suffering from a mood disorder that was being treated by a psychiatrist. While his own struggle continued, he became more effective in his advocacy in the US Congress. One misconception he believed had to be clarified concerned Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. He felt that this missed the main point that addiction is not something you can simply say no to, just as you can’t say no to cancer. It is a disease and by implying you can just say no stigmatized people who have the genetic propensity to have this disease.
As much as the story of Kennedy’s recognition of his own illness of addiction and mental disease and how he battled it is quite enlightening, the battle for a definitive bill in the US Congress is just as revealing.
The events leading up to the 2008 Wellstone and Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act are quite interesting and complicated. They are also quite personal to Patrick Kennedy. It took place at the time that he was relapsing to alcohol and painkillers and also was having an exacerbation of his bipolar condition. While Patrick Kennedy was one of the leading champions in the House of Representatives for this legislation, his father, Ted Kennedy, was a major supporter of this bill in the US Senate. This was also at a time that the senior Kennedy was dying of a brain tumor. Compromises had to be made in the bill and the Senate was reluctant for the legislation to be as comprehensive in various aspects and details of the bill as was wanted by the House of Representatives. There also was a question how the legislation would deal with the new surge of mental health problems occurring in soldiers returning from the war. There was a concern that it should cover PTSD as well as addiction in the returning servicemen. Patrick Kennedy described the dramatic moment that his dying father came to the senate floor to vote for the final version of the bill to the applause of the US Senate.
Even with the passage of this extraordinary legislation, the battle for adequate parity for healthcare support was far from over. The proof and the success of this landmark bill would depend on the implementation by the federal and state governments and certain local rulings are expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court. The 2016 presidential race can certainly also be expected to impact the success of implementation of this legislation. As of this writing, it appears that the Republican candidates may be reluctant to support the implementation of this legislation and provide funding for new programs.
Patrick Kennedy decided to leave the United States Congress in 2010. Since departing from Congress, he has continued to be a leading advocate to bring about implementation of the 2008 legislation for mental illness and addiction. In this regard, among many other things, he has worked with two important organizations in which he plays very active roles. The Kennedy Forum (kennedyforum.org) gathers experts in mental health and addiction and holds important conferences that they hope will ensure implementation of the 2008 legislation. They are also committed to promoting a translation of neuroscience into the preventative and treatment interventions for mental health and addiction. The second organization in which Patrick Kennedy is involved is One Mind (onemind.org), which is dedicated to the promotion and support of “brain health” and creating a fast track for treatment. Their current focus is on new approaches to treat and cure PTSD but they look forward to applying solutions for all brain disease including depression, Parkinsons, ALS, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and addictions.
Patrick Kennedy does not bemoan problems. He is clearly a man not only with a vision but with plans and solutions. He concluded his book with a scorecard of how we should rate our public officials who have the opportunity to pass legislation and make changes. Also at the end of the book, he had a section for people who are dealing with their own mental illness and addiction. He tells them not to be alone in this struggle and how important it is to get treatment. Finally, sandwiched in this book was a series of photographs of many well known members of his family. It brought back many memories to this reader of the great accomplishments of many members of the Kennedy family and of the tragic events that they experienced.
It should be noted that at the time that Patrick Kennedy wrote this book, he was three and a half years sober. He has shown that he is a very accomplished and insightful man. I believe we are going to hear a great deal about him in his advocacy. He has provided in this book a valuable historical account of the reasons to fight for the proper care of mental illness and addiction. I am sure he has a bright future and many people will benefit by his skills and his passion.
Robert Wallerstein: 65 Years at the Heart of Psychoanalysis – Interviewed and Produced by Shelley Nathans (Available in DVD and streaming from www.psychotherapy.net)
If you are a psychoanalyst, a psychoanalytically oriented psychiatrist, mental health professional or a student of psychoanalysis, you will appreciate this interview with Dr. Robert Wallerstein by Dr. Shelley Nathans. It presents Dr. Wallerstein as a warm, knowledgeable man who understands the legacy of his profession.
Dr. Wallerstein was born in Germany in 1921 and came to New York City with his mother at age two, to join his father, a physician who had come the previous year. He grew up in the depression and recalled apples being sold by grown men for five cents apiece in order to make a living. He graduated from high school at the age of 15 and was sent to live with his uncle in Mexico City and then returned to Columbia University, graduating in 1941 at the age of 20. After medical school, he joined the army as the war was ending. He then took his psychiatric and psychoanalytic training at Menninger Clinic. His years at the Menninger Clinic, of course, are quite intriguing. I never realized that the program there had at one time 100 residents, which was one-eighth of the total number of psychiatric residents in the United States. He notes that during his psychiatric residency, the main tools to treat severe mental illness were Chloral Hydrate, ECT and lobotomies.
Although his training was in the United States, he was a witness and then a participant in the growth of psychoanalysis in this country. In the interview, Dr. Wallerstein was able to trace the plight of Jewish psychoanalysts in Germany and then in Austria, who during the pre-World War II years were not able to take Arian patients and then ultimately had to leave their native country. American psychoanalysts set up funds to bring these psychoanalysts to the United States, mostly to New York. Dr. Wallerstein described the fascinating details of this situation and also spoke of the German, probably Nazi oriented psychoanalysts, who came to Brazil and the unusual circumstances that happened in that country in the post-war years. He had occasion to conduct an investigation into the details of this situation in the 1980s.
As a faculty member at the Menninger Clinic he proudly described hiring a young psychiatrist from Chile by the name of Otto Kernberg. He also discussed his two personal analyses and candidly admits that he felt that they could have gone further than they did. He tells about meeting his wife Judith and her career as a well-known researcher who studied and wrote about the impact of divorce on children.
Dr. Wallerstein was barely at his mid-career when he moved to San Francisco in 1966 and became established at Mt. Zion Hospital. Perhaps, his greatest insights into the psychoanalytic world came during his front row seat as President of the American Psychoanalytic Association and then President of the International Psychoanalytic Association. He describes the famous “lawsuit” which, of course, was a turning point in allowing non-psychiatrist to join the American Psychoanalytic Association and take an equal role in psychoanalysis in the United States. From his unique perspective, Dr. Wallerstein was able to reflect on the roles of different schools of psychoanalysis and their influence in the United States and even labeled Anna Freud’s recognition as the “crown princess.”
Dr. Shelley Nathans showed excellent technique in her interview as she stayed out of the way of Dr. Wallerstein and gently led him to new topics. This interview was done in July 2013 one and half years before Wallerstein died. While this DVD was only 1 hour and 22 minutes, there are a total of over five hours of the interview with him available in the archives. We are very appreciative of the efforts of the team led by Dr. Nathans that captured this interview and most of all, to Dr. Robert Wallerstein for his many contribution to our profession.
To learn more information about obtaining this and other related videos, contact psychotherapy.net